The director of the Public Theater says his company’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, which saw a stand-in for President Donald Trump being brutally stabbed to death, is a “good thing for the arts.”
“We can’t allow ourselves to feel overwhelmed. We can’t allow ourselves to feel we’re completely isolated. We’re not,” Oskar Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater, told the Associated Press.
“We’re speaking for the majority of the country and we need to draw strength from that and step out and take the risks that will really fulfill the arts’ historic function,” Eustis said.
Performances of the controversial play, which began in late May, sparked national outrage over the bloody stabbing of a blond hair and business suit-wearing Caesar character meant to resemble President Trump. Companies, including Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, pulled funding from the theater while several protesters rushed on stage during the play to protest what they called political violence against the President.
Eustis defiantly insisted that the uproar over his play was due to “completely slanted, biased reporting on a photograph and video tapes” of the production.
“The NEA being forced to distance themselves from our production is a very sad commentary on how incredibly vulnerable they feel as a federal agency. I don’t have any criticism for them at all. They are fighting for their life,” Eustis said.
Last week, actor Corey Stoll, who played Marcus Brutus in the play, said Julius Caesar is a form of “resistance,” a reference to the violent left-wing Resistance movement against President Trump.
Despite the negative backlash, New York City’s Public Theater is still collecting large cash contributions. Most recently, left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore pledged to donate $10,000 to the theater company.
What’s more, the Public Theater has reportedly received nearly $30 million in federal, state, and city grants since 2009, according to data published by OpenTheBooks CEO and Forbes contributor Andrew Andrzejewski.
Ultimately, Eustis says the flap his play caused is proof of art’s ability to effect public debate.
“The brouhaha over Julius Caesar is an illustration of the fact that the arts have the ability to be on the cutting edge of positive change,” he said. “We have the ability to make statements about democracy, about free speech, about robust debates, about the fact that controversy is a good thing for the arts. It’s what the arts are supposed to provoke. This is an opportunity that I hope folks won’t let go by.”
Follow Jerome Hudson on Twitter @jeromeehudson